Saturday, 11 October 2008

A rose by any other name

This morning, Capt. Yusof Ahmad posted an interesting story in his blog, The Ancient Mariner, about the Vietnamese refugee ship Hai Hong that arrived in Malaysia in 1978. I was in secondary school back then and remember this incident vaguely. I commented in the Captain's blog that his post reminded me of an old school friend because she had the nickname of Hai Hong.

But before I reveal who actually Hai Hong was, I would just like to recap a reply that I made some time back to Jabishah, a regular commenter in this blog. Jabishah remarked that she feels uncomfortable calling me Oldstock. I replied that she need not worry about calling me by that name because it was coined by friends a long time ago when I was at boarding school in MRSM Kuantan.

For those of you who have spent time in boarding school, I'm sure you have come across friends who have weird, interesting and amusing nicknames. Perhaps, like me, you have one yourself. To an outsider, some of these nicknames may appear demeaning but if you do not take offense or feel slighted, then such names are just part of a growing-up phase. No doubt, some people get stuck with their nicknames right up till adulthood.

There were so many interesting nicknames when I was in school, and this was not limited to boys only. Even the girls have nicknames that are known throughout the school. The reason for most nicknames are easily understood because they usually refer to physical appearance. Rosli Mamak, for instance, had a dark complexion. Norazharuddin Jepun could pass off as a Japanese without much problem. Bakar Buta is not really blind but he has eyes that are open as very thin slits. Raihan Buncit was slightly rounded around the waistline.

There were however, some guys whose nicknames really defy explanation. I have friends who are called Nyamuk, Konteng, Bull, Monggol, Batak and Mat Bunian. I had female schoolmates who were called Cone and Sergeant. There was this story about one of the Biology teachers who overheard the boys calling a friend by the name of Badang, a character in Malay folklore that gained superhuman strength after eating the vomit of a jinn. The teacher asked who the owner of this nickname was, and when Badang identified himself, she let out a gasp in disbelief. You see, Badang was actually a thin and spindly guy... not the tough chap that she first assumed. I was told the whole class had a good laugh and Badang did not feel the least offended.

Back then, one of the activity that the Freshie Week Committee conducted was a `know your seniors' game. The task involved all Form 1 newcomers to identify some seniors based on a list that had two columns of forty or so nicknames, one each for male and female. It's not enough for the freshies just to write the seniors real name, they had to get their signatures as well. Some seniors purposely made it difficult by not owning up or simply glaring back at the juniors when asked. Can you imagine a timid 13-year old boy braving himself to approach a senior student to ask, `Abang ni nama Buncit ye?'. Buncit could have glared back and the freshie would probably shed tears... luckily for them Buncit is a kind-hearted soul. Once the owner of a nickname is identified, you could see a crowd of the freshies gathering around the senior asking for his or her signature, not unlike a superstar signing autographs for his/her fans.

And now back to story of a former classmate who was called Hai Hong. I really don't know how she got that name and neither had I the opportunity to ask. I attach below, an extract of the note she wrote in my autograph book, the evening after we had sat for our Geography paper during the MCE exams of 1979. That was almost 30 years ago...

To the lovely Norhayati Shaharuddin from Gopeng Perak, may you and your family be in the best of health, wherever you are. Thanks Hai Hong, for being a friend.


Patricia said...

Hi Oldstock,

I was in uni when the Hai Hong episode happened. And the chest-bangers among us had a great time debating the lot of the refugees.

I didn't have a nickname in school - at least, I don't think I did! Hahahaha. I guess Pat is just too easy to say, so why complicate things, ya?

But this was a fun post. As a teacher, I remember hearing students calling each other by strange names. And, since I taught English, I would give some students names, especially if they had Chinese, Indian, or Malay names that I trouble pronouncing!

After stumbling over the name on the first day, I'd offer an 'English' name, and mostly, students were willing to play along. I always made s ure I remembered their 'real' names, but in my class, everyone called them by their 'English' names.

Years later, I found out that one of the boys I taught kept the name I'd given him. At the time, Boyzone was a big deal, and I gave him the name 'Ronan' after their lead singer. I guess he liked it, and decided to keep it! Cool, eh?!


Michelle said...

Ah, nicknames. There was this one very short period of time when I was called 'susu'. Came about because my Chinese name is Mei Su. Enough explanation all by itself. :)

Somehow or other, it didn't stick. Probably because I didn't know they were calling me until they got so exasperated that they reverted to calling me Michelle again.

Fauziah Ismail said...

Salam Oldstock
Never had a nickname when I was in school and even now. Some friends call me Jee, Gee or Ogy after celebrities who share the same name but carry these nicknames.
I don't answer to any of them before but now, I just say yes.
These days, friends with same name are given initials such as SyedN (initial for his first name), SyedJD (stands for Jack Daniels, his favourite drink) and Syed TNB (for the organisation he is working with).

p/s Boys have autograph books, too? I thought only girls have it.

hanitha said...

salam bro, menarik topik ari nie, well, masa zaman sekolah menengah dulu,tahun 1980, amik spm, kengkawan panggil jawa.sebab i nie jawa skrg dh tuko plak..panggil kaklong la plak sebab i yg paling senior among my geng ehehe... but ader la jugak sorang kwn opis nie yg maintain panggil i wak jawa..but i ok je..bangga ngan jawa i ehehe

Oldstock said...

Hi Pat,

If I were in your English class, what name would you give me? Ronan Fadhil would've sounded cool... heheheh...

Oldstock said...

Hi Michelle,

So you didn't respond when friends called you `susu' huh? I think being called `susu' is not really that bad. At least it's a healthy drink.

I guess I could start to call you Su or Sue, as what I see the other commenters in your blog have done. Would that be okay?

Oldstock said...

Salam Fauziah,

Uji/Ogy/Jee is a common short form of your name. I call my cousin (whose son was one of the MISC kidnap hostage) Kak Uji. So you had people call you by you full name, eh?

As I mentioned in my post, I had a female classmate who was (and I believe, still is) called Cone. And her real name? Fauziah Harun. Go figure!

p/s - Most boys do not have autograph books... don't know why. Maybe something to do with the macho thing, I guess. But I'm a sentimental soul... and I'm glad I kept it. Almost thirty years on, I still have the book. A bit frayed at the edges and the paper starting to yellow... but I can still read all the entries.

Oldstock said...

Salam Hanitha @ Kaklong Jawa,

Tak perlu segan... samada kita Jawa, Banjar, Bugis, Mandailing dsbnya.

VersedAnggerik said...

In MRSM KT I was just plain Ahan. No nicknames for me. Boo hoo...

Michelle said...

I don't mind people calling me 'su' really, coz I actually sign myself off as 'su' on emails and stuff.

It happens to be the favourite part of my name in fact! :)

So you're very welcome to call me 'su', not "Sue" though.

Oldstock said...

-> Verse, Ahan tu pun kira nick jugak la.

-> Michelle, okay... Su it is.